Group leaders, what are the first words out of your mouth when your session starts? Do they jolt people? Do they draw first time guests in, or push them away? Do they align with what the Holy Spirit is going to bring about as a result of your session? Are they built upon the session’s Scripture?
Opening illustrations that hint at your closing application can lend strength and cohesiveness to your message. Some of these are provided for you in the “Opening Thoughts” of Explore the Bible: Adult and the “This Week’s Focus” of Explore the Bible: Students (in the Personal Study Guides). However, a common request we hear from Explore the Bible users is one for more illustration material. On a later date, I will blog about using the Leader Packs in illustrations and drawing from your own personal walk with Christ for illustration material. However, for now, consider your own unique group’s potential take on the session’s closing practical challenge or challenges. Envision them living out on Monday morning what they studied from Scripture together on Sunday. From that sense of vision and from your intimate knowledge of the Scripture passage in its context, consider an opening illustration, story, activity, or question that would set a tone of tension; tension that is resolved at your session’s close.
Cohesiveness: When the challenge or challenges issued at a session’s closing bring back a concept that was introduced at the session’s opening, the entire session’s experience is encapsulated. It is framed by a singular thought that, when evoked, can help someone recall the session’s Scripture and takeaway. This is part of the structure in Explore the Bible: Students’ own Midweek sessions.
Intimacy: Because no two small groups come from identical backgrounds in identical contexts, no single scripted illustration could equally reach every group that uses a given session of Explore the Bible. However, because you know your group better than anyone, you are best able to formulate an opening story, question, or activity based on how your group will act upon a given session’s application. Take the content of your Leader Guide and make it intimately personal for your unique group.
Engagement: What you do in your session’s opening 30 seconds will likely determine how invested your first-time guests are for the duration of the session. It is a common tool of movie makers to, near the beginning, give a puny hint and the movie’s huge ending. Redeem this story-telling mechanism and use it as a part of His ultimate story.
Open your session by telling an incomplete story; one that ends on a cliffhanger at the session’s opening and then is completed just before your session’s “Now What?” section.
Imagine your group taking the first pragmatic step toward the session’s call to action based on the Scripture. Let that image be the seed of inspiration that grows into your session’s opening. This will draw people in and help to create an “aha” moment for them at the end of your session when they see the thread that connects your opening words, the Scripture’s message, and your closing application.
God bless you and your ministry!
Brand Manager: Explore the Bible